Rashford the difference as United hold off Liverpool

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Rashford scored two goals in 10 minutes. EFE/EPA

Rashford the difference as United hold off Liverpool

Marcus Rashford's first-half brace proved decisive as Manchester United held off rivals Liverpool to secure an important three points in the race for Champions League qualification.

It was billed as one of the most important Premier League games of the season as Manchester United and Liverpool faced off at Old Trafford with just two points and one place between the two historic English clubs.

Jurgen Klopp had the best head-to-head record out of any manager against Jose Mourinho (W3, D4, L1) meanwhile the Portuguese head coach was unbeaten in his last seven meetings against the ‘Reds’. One record looked set to fall on Saturday.

- Rashford capitalised -

It was a cagey opening as neither team could work the space to mount a serious attack on goal, with Liverpool happy to dominate possession in the early stages but couldn’t open up the gaps for their in-form attacking trio to exploit.

However, they would rue not injecting some more urgency into the game when Marcus Rashford punished them in the 14th minute. After a wasteful corner from the visitors resulted in a goal-kick, David De Gea fired it up field and a flick-on from Romelu Lukaku landed perfectly for his English teammate, who then dazzled Trent Alexander-Arnold in the box before curling it into the back of the net.

The 20-year-old would then make it 2-0 ten minutes later, again through De Gea and a route-one approach. United worked the ball through to a rushing Rashford whose first-time shot took an important deflection off Alexander-Arnold and went over Karius, who could do little about it.

The two-goal cushion allowed the 'Red Devils' to sit back and hold their defensive shape, frustrating the Liverpool attack whose best opportunity of the half fell to defender Virgil van Dijk, but the former 'Saints' man misjudged the flight of the ball from a corner and instead headed it wide with his shoulder.

Juan Mata also had a great chance to further compound Liverpool's misery when he found himself in tonnes of space in the box as a ball floated in. However, he too misjudged the flight of the ball and couldn't connect cleanly with a bicycle-kick as the attempt flew past the post.

Nonetheless, United went into the break with a comfortable lead and had in fact, never lost a match in the Premier League era after going in front by two goals at Old Trafford. It didn't look a good omen for the visitors but they refused to give up.

- Action-packed second-half -

Liverpool again dominated all the statistics in the second-half but couldn't make it count on the scoreline, with van Dijk firing another header from a corner wide.

However, they had a great appeal for a penalty turned down by Craig Pawson in the 54th minute after Antonio Valencia handled the ball in the box. It was arguably difficult for the match official to see but replays confirmed it was stone-wall.

The visitors would receive some luck shortly after though when United defender Eric Bailly, who was returning for the first time since November following an injury, turned the ball into his own net in spectacular fashion.

Sadio Mane had crossed it into the box from the left wing which Bailly tried to clear in unorthodox fashion but messed it up completely with the ball instead passing De Gea at the near post and gifting Liverpool a lifeline.

From then on, the 'Reds' had all the momentum but still struggled to create clear-cut opportunities for their forwards with Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino failing to mount a serious threat up top.

They can feel agrieved not to have been awarded another penalty in the 82nd minute though after substitute Marouane Fellaini caught the trailing leg of Mane in the box, who was trying to get on to a beautiful backheel by Firmino. However, Pawson yet again was having none of it.

Despite their best efforts, United held off Liverpool to secure a massive three points in the race for Champions League qualification, extending their lead over their rivals to five points.

As for Liverpool, they remain in third with 60 points but could drop to fourth if Tottenham can beat Bournemouth on Sunday in the later kick-off.

Anna Woodberry

Anna Woodberry

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